Are Brands Really "On" Twitter?

Posted by

Are brands doing the right thing when they join Twitter and get involved?

It’s a tough question to answer. One person’s "right way" is another person’s "wrong way." An example I am fond of repeating is that of a company that is on Twitter but only using it to tweet out their corporate press releases. The knee-jerk reaction is, "this is a terrible use of Twitter!", but what if said company engaged with their industry analysts and journalist and let them know that this Twitter feed was set-up specifically for them, so that they did not clutter email inboxes or inundate voice mailboxes with pleas for a return phone call? Seems like a very smart use of Twitter (if it works and catches on).

Never forget that Twitter is a spam-free zone.

In fact, one of the most amazing facets of Social Media is how spam free it is. Think about it: you only following those you have chosen or accepted to follow. If they are in any way, shape or form, abusing that connection, all you have to do is unfollow them (or not follow them in the first place). These platforms (Twitter, Facebook, whatever) are self-created in terms of the content flow. So, when a brand hops on Twitter and starts tweeting out contest promotions or discount codes, you can simply ignore them. The true mettle of their success (or as I like to call it, Digital Darwinism) will happen in short order. Brands that claim they are not seeing any reasonable sense of ROI from being a part of Twitter (or any online social network for that matter) are missing one major point: they don’t decide if what they’re doing is successful… the community does (or those who are following).

Traditional marketing may not make it in these new channels and platforms.

If people love these contest promotions and discount codes (traditional marketing messages and offers), the brands will know. People will follow, they will retweet and they will talk (a lot) about what is going on. The sad truth is that most brands think that what they are doing is enough (some semblance or responding and pumping the feed with offers), when in reality they haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. Like anything else, all of these new channels and platforms are hard work. They are not quick fixes and stuff just doesn’t happen overnight (only on the rare occasion). If a brand’s sole intent is to be on Twitter because they think it will be a quick, cheap and easy way to pawn off marketing and communications messages, they’re going to be in for a brutally blunt reality check in a very fast way.

A good chunk of brands suck at Twitter (or think it doesn’t work) because they’re trying to pump boring one-way messages into a channel that celebrates human and real connections and conversations.


  1. Thank for you stating there are no quick fixes. Most of time, Twitter success takes time to cultivate valuable relationships and as you’ve mentioned in the example of potentially successful use as a news feed, it can take many forms.
    Brands that want to establish themselves on Twitter must make a commitment and decide to be there for the long haul. Someone, preferably in-house, must be responsible for maintaining the feed on a regular basis. A campaign-specific model doesn’t work well for customers or online influencers. Nothing is less satisfying then building up a relationship with a brand on Twitter (or person representing it) and two weeks later when you need their help, finding out the lights are still on but nobody’s home.
    One campaign last fall did a great job of engaging with prospective customers on Twitter. Yet, the conversations were focused on getting a product into people’s homes once people had questions or concerns, the conversations stopped and the questions went unanswered. Not cool.
    BTW, I respectfully beg to differ about Twitter being spam free. There were several hackers this week alone. Granted, it’s not as bad as email spam – yet.

  2. hey mitch – nice post. i think the key take away here is that too many of us have those knee jerk reactions to marketing efforts in general. “i hate that 30 second spot”; “that viral video isn’t very good”; “that’s not a blog”; “what a poor facebook page”; “that company/brand/organization isn’t *really* on twitter” – all without knowing the back story behind the output, the insight that drove the creative or the target audience.
    there are a lot of armchair quarterbacks but they have no idea how to read the playbook or even the thought that went into creating the plays.

  3. Mitch – I definitely gotta side with Eden here regarding Twitter spam. While you can choose not to follow accounts that aren’t relevant to you, they can still @ you, and I think that amounts to spam.
    I’m also going to disagree with your statement that “brands suck at Twitter because they’re trying to pump boring one-way messages into a channel that celebrates human and real connections and conversations.”
    I noticed you follow the Twitter account ThisIsSethsBlog, which is nothing more than an automated feed for Seth Godin’s blog (a blog that, as a far as I know, still doesn’t allow comments). How is this NOT a one way message? It doesn’t celebrate human and real connections. It is simply a distribution channel for messages from Brand Seth Godin.
    Yet it works – it has hundreds of thousands of followers. I’ve had similar success (albeit, on a much smaller scale) using Twitter as a feed for various sources, and seeing people subscribe.

  4. There are different effective uses. But, if you are going to use Twitter as a feed for the media, the bio really needs to say this is our Twitter feed to the media.
    One brand I think is doing a really good Job is Philly Brand Cream Cheese. @lovemyphilly . They do what you might expect such as share recipes, but they also champion their followers and even participate in follow Friday.

  5. Mitch,
    Great post as usual. I have just started using Twitter in the last month or so to inform people of posts on my blog, basically I am trying to get people to read about information that they may find informative.
    I am absolutely surprised by the shear volume of spam that happens, I make it akin to trying to go all the way on the first date (which works for some people, but probably not the vast majority).
    Perhaps one of the reasons so many people leave Twitter so quickly is that they don’t see immediate results and we are a society built on quick results and fixes. Probably if they take it slow and have defined goals, they may actually see the value.
    Chris Hamilton

  6. Two examples.
    1) I tweeted once “I love you, @wholefoods. Will you marry me?” They replied they weren’t sure if an LLC could marry an individual, but decided to send me a gift card in lieu of a wedding. Five days later, gift card.
    2) I tweeted last week, “Dear @walgreens: I would appreciate you NOT losing the refill for my heart meds. It’s not like I need it to beat properly.” (I have an arrhythmia). The next day they ironically tweeted about heart health, but never once responded. They simply pump out deals and links. And that’s why I’m going back to my Rx filling at Target, where they remember little things about me, Twitter or not.
    Everyone wants to feel loved.

  7. Mitch,
    I was thinking about a response to your post on R.I.P. for Personal Branding and now I read this and I think I see the problem but don’t know if I have the solution.
    It’s easy to have a Personal or Corporate “Brand” when you can push it on people and they can’t gather in large groups and challenge you, this is who we say we are so there.
    Now that people can gather in large groups easily and trade stories and expect or even demand that it be a two way communication stream they now get to dictate who you are, not you, and if you have hundreds of thousands of followers it will be harder and harder to communicate in a way that feels one to one.
    The real danger as Social Media gets bigger and more money is involved is that the slick Marketers will try to swoop in and fix it, spin it and cover it up, will the masses see through this or will it go back to the way it was?
    So the best you can do is put it all out there and show your Personality or your Corporate “Brand” and listen to what others say, if it’s not coming back to you the way you think it should then maybe you have a flaw or two and need to reevaluate and do some soul searching. I think there are points given for trying your best, being honest and fessing up when you make mistakes. That’s what most humans do anyway on a daily basis and I think that’s all the people want.

  8. Mitch: Great stuff as usual. But I think brands are focusing more on what instead of why. Why does a brand want to get on Twitter? Why would their customers find value from them on Twitter? All of that will hopefully ensure some due diligence is conducted. Tying their social media approach as a whole to support business goals will help drive what they measure (key performance indicators) which makes it even easier to answer the question what does success look like?
    But as you see all the time, brands chase someone’s else success on a shiny new platform instead of deciding how said shiny new platform may (or may not) help them.

  9. If companies are just pumping information to people, they are really losing out. I think my favorite Twitter success story is Freshbooks. Check out the whole story (not a link to my blog):
    The way it goes is that they saw an opportunity to make a customer happy, having nothing to do with their product, and this customer turned into a huge evangelist, creating a lot of business for the company. In some ways, you could see this as just karma repaying them for a job well done. I’d like to think that that’s enough, but even if it’s not, it’s definitely good business.

  10. Ed (and Mitch J.)
    To Twitter or Not To Twitter? – that is not the question. Definitely agree with your comments and post. If clients ask this question or anything similar to it then they are asking the wrong questions to start with.
    Digital marketers, entrepreneurs, and product developers (including myself) can sometimes focus on the “latest shiny digital product, tool, and tactic” – from crowdsourcing, to the iPad, to the launch of Google Buzz, to the latest upgrades in Hootsuite. While there’s a need for this type of focus, it should be at the end of your strategy or planning process, not the beginning.
    Mitch Fanning

  11. Mitch – Interesting thoughts. I add to this commentary another question, ‘should brands follow people on Twitter’? Many companies seem to set up accounts that have no personalization whatsoever (it’s just the brand logo) then proceed to follow a bunch of people in their sector.
    This is of particular interest to me in my industry (journalism) because I find it reprehensible when media outlets create Twitter profiles then proceed to follow everyone they can find in their city without gaining a following in a more organic fashion.
    At it’s extreme I often ask people how they would react if their local police force joined Twitter and automatically followed all locals. I appreciate that it really doesn’t change what they can and cannot glean from the tweets in the cloud, but the perception is that they are creeping on the community.
    Personally I feel the same way with unsolicited follows from a branded account.

  12. Hey Chris. You really hit it on the head about Twitter’s biggest issue. How to get new users to integrate Twitter into their lives. I’m still not sold on Twitter as a mainstream platform but it will have it’s uses in certain niches.

Comments are closed.